SHOF Masterclass at USC with Trailblazing Hitmaker and 2013 SHOF Inductee Holly Knight

Patrice Rushen, a SHOF Board Member and Chair of the Popular Music Program at USC Thornton School of Music, in conversation with 2013 SHOF inductee Holly Knight during her SHOF USC Masterclass.

On April 19, 2013, the USC Carson Television Center resonated with the wisdom, words and music written by one of the industry’s most prolific figures. Holly Knight, a 2013 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SHOF), graced the stage for an inspiring and educational SHOF Master Session. Moderated by Patrice Rushen, a SHOF Board Member and Chair of the Popular Music Program at USC Thornton School of Music, the event offered their students a rare opportunity to learn firsthand from the trailblazing female hitmaker behind some of the most popular and empowering songs in music history.

Knight's Master Session at USC was a testament to the power of music and enduring impact of a well-crafted song. Her journey from band member to celebrated songwriter is an inspiration for aspiring musicians and songwriters alike. Knight's legacy will undoubtedly influence future generations of artists.

Behind the Hits

Holly Knight has made an indelible mark as a songwriter, musician, and singer. In the 1980s, she was a member of pop rock groups Spider and Device, and became acclaimed from penning hits for other artists. Her impressive catalog includes chart-toppers like "Rag Doll," "Obsession," "Love Is a Battlefield," "The Best," "Invincible," "Better Be Good to Me," "The Warrior," and "Change," to name a few. She’s worked with legends including Rod Stewart, KISS, and Aerosmith, and it was her collaborations with female artists that truly broke through, giving a new voice to women all over the world. Defiant, purposeful, and ultimately triumphant, her work with Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, and the band Heart among others also helped pave the way for the next generation of defining female music. It was the music and words, and the impact of her songs on MTV, that helped define Holly’s work for the masses with “Love is a Battlefield,” “Better Be Good to Me,” “The Best” “Never,” My Obsession,” “Rag Doll,” and more.

The USC Master Session featured an intimate conversation between Knight and Rushen, followed by an informative Q&A and a musical tribute by talented USC students. Knight shared stories about her influences, from growing up in New York City to securing a record and publishing deal. She spoke candidly about her career, sharing her truth and the realities of the music industry, while offering heartfelt advice.

During the Master Session, Knight shared her journey from growing up and playing classical music at a young age, to being a member of the group Spider, to becoming an in demand, sought-after songwriter. She recounted how writer/producer and industry executive Mike Chapman encouraged her to move to LA to pursue her songwriting. This pivotal decision led to a publishing deal, and eventual collaborations on hit songs such as "Better Be Good to Me" by Tina Turner and "Love Is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar, to name a few.

Knight's transition from band member to songwriter was not without its challenges. She spoke about the fear of starting over and the uncertainty of writing for other artists. However, she said Chapman's early mentorship provided her with invaluable opportunities, ultimately leading to her writing some of the most iconic songs in music history.

Some of the most poignant moments of the Master Session came when Rushen showed Knight and the students behind the scenes photos from her career, including a picture with Tina Turner. Knight's response captured the essence of their relationship: "My heart is exploding right now because she's not around anymore…We couldn't have been more different as far as our backgrounds, but we were so simpatico. She's recorded nine songs of mine over the years and it's been a great friendship." 

Knight’s Approach and the Art of Collaboration

Regarding her unique approach to songwriting and perspective, Knight said: "I tend to write for a man and then give this song to a woman because I think that's what makes it empowering, rather than thinking from a woman's point of view - thinking from a human point of view."

Knight's career has been marked by successful collaborations. She spoke about the qualities that make a good collaborator and the chemistry needed for a successful partnership: "You should be able to sit down and write a song with one other person, or yourself really, because it's like the whole thing with too many chefs in the kitchen, how many opinions do you need? I think there's a lot that goes with the chemistry. It's just like falling in love."

Rushen additionally highlighted the impressive number of Knight's songs that have been featured in films, TV shows, and commercials, and asked how this has affected her career. Knight's response was filled with humility and gratitude: "I have the best job. I get to do what I love to do, and it keeps on going…I get covers and sync licensing almost every day. Something comes along, and it's being used again. All I can imagine is that I've tapped into something that is sort of like this collective psyche that people relate to."

Sage Advice: “Rise Above It”

Knight offered students valuable advice, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and resilience in the music industry: "One of my biggest pearls of wisdom would be to say, keep it real. Just live your life honestly. Keep your music real. Don't be afraid to show the words and show what's real in there, because that's what people relate to, not the sort of perfect glossy stuff…I think one of the reasons I've been so successful with women in this empowering thing, first of all, you have to know my background, and I do believe that you need adversarial circumstances to want to rise above. If everything is perfect and hunky dory, that's great. That's like eating ice cream. But being a survivor means you have to learn from something, rise above it, and maybe not do it again. And let's face it, survivors have the best stories anyway!"